Types Of Medical Malpractice Cases
This section gives an overview of the various types of medical malpractice lawsuits. To get started, select the type of case or scroll down to read a detailed primer on the various types of medical errors in Maryland.
Types of Medical Malpractice
Preventable Medical Errors
As of 2014, preventable medical errors are now one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Medical studies have concluded that some 400,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors, and many more are seriously harmed by them. If you believe you or a loved one may have been harmed due to a preventable medical error, please contact the experienced Baltimore medical malpractice team at Gilman & Bedigian as soon as possible.
Medical Malpractice Due to Misdiagnosis, Failure to Diagnose and Delayed Diagnosis
Patients need to trust their doctors, but doctors make mistakes. Diagnosis errors by medical professionals are alarmingly common. A failed, delayed, or misdiagnosis doesn't always translate to serious injury for a patient, but when it does doctors can be held liable for their mistakes. For example, a doctor may mistake cancer for constipation. Though most doctors believe these types of errors are preventable, most also encounter medical diagnosis errors at least once a month.
Malpractice cases of failed, delayed, or misdiagnosis relate only to medical diagnoses. So what is a medical diagnosis?
A medical diagnosis will deal directly with a patient's illness as opposed to the psychological or physiological response to that illness. For example, only a doctor can diagnosis a patient with pneumonia, but a nurse can diagnosis the patient with a fever or painful breathing.
Doctors must follow the “standard of care”. The standard of care dictates that they must act in the same way that any other doctor in their position would reasonably act. Breaking that standard can result in injury and undue harm for patients, and medical malpractice cases against doctors and hospitals.
There are three types of diagnosis errors:
Failure to Diagnose Leading To Medical Malpractice
Failure to diagnose occurs only when a patient's doctor does not identify or investigate a disease that their patient might reasonably have, that other reasonable doctors would have investigated. For example, failing to diagnose a stroke can lead to death or significant and unnecessary medical setbacks, and can constitute medical malpractice. Similarly, birth complications, leading to injuries or death, can be caused by a physician's failure to recognize fetal distress. Birth injury cases regularly lead to multi-million dollar settlements.
Misdiagnosis Leading To Medical Malpractice
Misdiagnosis medical malpractice occurs when the doctor gives a patient an incorrect diagnosis of a disease different from the one the patient suffers from. A misdiagnosis can send a patient down a treatment path for a disease they do not have, which comes with serious health risks. For that reason, medical errors often begin with a bad diagnosis.
Delay in Diagnosis Leading To Medical Malpractice
A delayed diagnosis is often the result of the doctor's failure to order the correct tests for the patient, leading to a late diagnosis that leaves the patient suffering, or worsens the patient's condition.
Some common topics in diagnosis error malpractice cases are:
- Cancer Diagnosis Errors
- Diabetes Diagnosis Errors
- Heart Attack
- Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism
- Aortic Aneurysm
A diagnosis error can only count as negligent if it resulted in serious harm or suffering for the patient. If a doctor made a mistake that results in no or very minimal harm to the patient, the patient could probably not succeed in collecting damages in a malpractice case.
Surgical Errors That Are Medical Malpractice
Though surgeries always carry some amount of risk, surgical errors by medical professionals put patients in harm's way. There are certain preventable things that should never happen in a hospital or other health care setting that healthcare professionals call “never events.” Nevertheless, medical studies demonstrate at least 4,000 surgical “never events” occur each year in the US, or about 80 times a week.
These events include:
- Damaging organs, nerves, ducts, vessels, or bowels
- Foreign body left in patient
- Operating on the incorrect body part
- Operating on the wrong patient
These errors are most common during:
- Plastic and cosmetic surgery
- Thoracic surgery
- Organ transplants
- Cancer operations
A newer trend in the medical field, robotic surgery, also comes with high risk and we are seeing an increasing amount of robotic surgeries being litigated.
Surgical errors can lead to massive medical costs for victims. Like diagnosis errors, surgical errors do need to result in serious injury to the patient. If the patient suffered serious harm or death as a result of a surgical error, they have the right to demand compensation.
Negligent Intubation Malpractice
Intubation is an essential part of emergency medicine, critical care and anesthesiology to maintain a patient's airway. Intubation keeps the patient's airway open and unblocked during surgery. For some procedures, anesthesiologists have to insert a tube into the patient's throat, esophagus, or nasal cavities to pump oxygen or medications into the patient. Improper or negligent intubation can damage the esophagus, and quickly lead to brain damage or worse.
Intubation is a complex process that can only be done by highly skilled professionals, and there is little room for error. Previous studies have shown that paramedics outside of hospitals have up to a 40% frequency of error in intubation procedures. Though in-hospital doctors receive more training in intubation techniques, errors are catastrophic for the patient, and can quickly deprive the patient's brain of oxygen, or block airways and lead to death.
If medical professionals are acting quickly in emergency situations, or are not properly trained in intubation techniques they can seriously harm the patient. Here's one example of a case where the paramedics negligently intubated the patient's esophagus.
Negligent intubation can result in:
- Brain damage from a lack of oxygen
- Tooth damage from misplaced tubes
- Damage to the esophagus
- Damage to the vocal chords
- Painful recovery
Negligent intubation can occur when medical professionals are not properly trained on intubation techniques, use damaged unsanitary equipment, bump or move intubation tubes, or generally fail to notice harm to the patient that results from the intubation process.
Anesthesia Errors Leading To Medical Malpractice
Anesthesia is a medication given during medical procedures or surgery to control pain. It can be local, regional, or general. Local is used in very small procedures to numb a small region. Regional blocks a larger region, like an epidural, and may also include medication to help you relax or fall asleep. General is usually administered through an IV or air mask and will make you unconscious.
To avoid harm resulting in malpractice, anesthesiologists need to be aware of the patient's medical records, results from any recent medical tests like blood samples, and the patient's preference for anesthesia if the patient has a choice and is not in an emergency situation. Anesthesiology care also involves evaluating the patient's current health, and understanding the plans for the operation or procedure that will be done
Anesthesia errors can result in:
- Nerve damage
- Brain damage
- Increased pain - Paralysis
- Tooth damage
- Heart complications
- Asphyxia, or lack of oxygen
Anesthesiologists can make mistakes by:
- Over or under dosing anesthesia
- Improperly inserting endotracheal tube
- Not being aware of patient's medical history
- Not informing patient of anesthesia procedures, like not eating 12- 42 hours before operation
- Not properly following the patient's vital signs during a procedure
- Failing to properly document surgery (anesthesiologists are responsible for maintaining records of surgery)
There is much debate about whether anesthesia is overused, especially when it comes to children. Parents should understand the downsides of putting children under anesthesia.
Emergency Room Errors
The hustle of an emergency room can leave a patient exposed to emergency room errors caused by emergency room physicians and other medical care professionals. With over 130 million visits to emergency rooms each year in the US, the chance for error is high.
Types of Emergency Room Malpractice:
- An incorrect diagnosis can lead a patient down a dangerous treatment path for a disease they do not have, and will further delay proper treatment to the patient. In the meantime, the patient's condition can worsen substantially, and incorrect medication can take an adverse effect.
Delay in Treatment
- Delaying a patient's treatment can worsen their condition, and lead to further problems that may not be reversible.
Medication or Surgical Errors
- Errors in medication can result from other diagnosis errors, improper or incomplete training of the healthcare professionals administering the medication, or from simple communication errors. Surgical errors include leaving medical equipment, like sponges, inside the patient, operating on the wrong site or wrong patient, or other negligent errors.
- Lab errors can skew medical results of patients and lead to improper medication, or misinformed doctors and medical professionals who make decisions for the patient's care. Lab results can be lost of miscommunicated, or lab equipment can be faulty.
Improper Discharge or Failure to Follow Up
- When patients are discharged from the hospital they should be in stable condition and understand their follow-up or medication plan. If patients are discharged before they are physically ready or if their doctor does not provide sufficient follow-up care, the patient can relapse or worsen in condition.
- Other negligent errors include: patient dumping (transferring or discharging a patient for monetary purposes), treatment administered by an improperly trained medical professional, unsanitary conditions in the hospital or unsanitary medical equipment, x-ray errors, EMT errors, or any other form of negligence.
- Here's a case where a man went to the ER for a sore throat, and died under sedation. Examples of cases like this are, unfortunately, far too common.
Suing For Wrongful Pregnancy
Many people rely on vasectomies or tubal ligation as an effective form of birth control, but sometimes mistakes in those procedures can lead to an unforeseen pregnancy. The same can happen with pharmaceutical drugs aimed to prevent pregnancy. Even if parents end up with a healthy child, they will face many unanticipated and unwarranted costs for raising their child. This may give rise to a lawsuit for wrongful pregnancy. In Maryland, parents can sue for compensation for the cost of raising a child if these procedures failed them.
Sometimes couples undergo these procedures because they are physically or mentally unable to care for a child, or testing reveals that the pregnancy will produce a child with special needs.
Patients that were faced with unwanted pregnancies as a result of these negligently performed procedures can demand compensation for the following costs:
- The procedure (vasectomy or tubal ligation) that failed
- Terminating pregnancy
- Cost of childbirth
- Cost of raising a child, including child care services
- Any mental or physical harm that resulted from the pregnancy, including mental or physical harm to the child who was the result of the mistaken procedure
- Cost of lost wages
Wrongful pregnancy is different than wrongful birth.
Prenatal Care Medical Malpractice
There are so many things for new parents to think and worry about when they become pregnant, they shouldn't have to worry that their doctor is providing the best possible care for their child.
There are a number of ways that a doctor can commit prenatal care malpractice. To avoid causing harm, obstetricians should know the mother's medical history, diagnose conditions in the mother, and should know any risks involved with the pregnancy like birth defects, gestational diabetes, hypertension, pre-eclampsia, or if it is an ectopic pregnancy. If doctors are not prepared for complications with the pregnancy or birth, they can put both the mother and baby at serious risk of harm.
To provide effective prenatal care doctors must:
- Be able to recognize symptoms of serious complications
- Provide the proper testing and diagnoses
- Refer to specialists when necessary
- Asses the risks involved in the pregnancy
- Keep track of the baby's growth and development before birth
Negligent prenatal care occurs when there is a:
- Failure to diagnose medical conditions in the mother. For example, a pregnant mother was diagnosed with gallstones and a hematoma, and ignoring her medical history, sent her home. The result was that the child was lost, and she lost 50% of her blood and went into kidney failure. A jury awarded her $2.5 million.
- Failure to identify birth defects/ wrongful birth
- Failure to identify ectopic pregnancy
- Failure to diagnose a disease in the mother that is contagious to the child
Results of negligent prenatal care can be devastating, and can cause lasting or permanent damage to both the mother and child, or even result in death.
Childbirth Injuries And Medical Malpractice
Statistics show that 7 out of every 1,000 babies are born with a birth injury. Childbirth injuries occur when the mother or child is injured during childbirth as a result of a preventable error. Sometimes injuries during childbirth are unavoidable, but many errors are preventable. Most of these injuries will happen during labor or delivery.
Childbirth injuries can include:
- Failure to anticipate or prepare for birth complications like a wrapped umbilical cord or large baby
- Failure to recognize and respond to signs of distress in the fetus
- Failure to conduct a cesarean section when appropriate
- Negligent use of extraction devices like forceps or vacuum extractors
- Cerebral Palsy, a brain and nervous system condition that often comes as a result of reduced oxygen to the baby's brain
- Erb's Palsy, lost sensation or paralysis of the baby's limbs as a result of stretching the baby
- Hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to the baby's brain
- Shoulder Dystocia, when the baby's shoulder(s) get caught during birth
If doctors do not follow protocol, fail to medically intervene or provide too much medical intervention, or otherwise provide negligent care, the mother and baby could be at serious risk.
Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery Malpractice
Plastic and cosmetic surgeries cover a wide range of complex procedures that ranges from restorative or reconstructive procedures after surgery or other physical damage, to procedures geared towards improving or rejuvenating physical appearance to help boost self-esteem and confidence.
There were 15.6 million cosmetic procedures and another 5.8 million reconstructive procedures in the United States alone in 2014. The number will keep growing as men increasingly turn to plastic and cosmetic surgery, and 1 in 5 women are actively “planning or considering” it.
Some common plastic and cosmetic medical procedures include:
- Laser hair removal
- Tummy tuck
- Eyelid surgery
- Botox, Dysport and Xeomin
- Chemical peels
- Breast augmentation/ implants
- Breast implant removal
- Nose reshaping
Plastic surgery is a highly profitable field for doctors, and sometimes the pursuit of profit is put above the patient's health. Problems like rushed surgeries and simultaneous procedures can result in serious health problems for patients, leading to plastic surgery malpractice claims. Additionally, many plastic or cosmetic surgeries occur outside a hospital, typically at a surgical center. A surgical center is not equipped to handle emergency situations like a hospital. Moreover, many surgery centers use outside anesthesiologists which expose patients to risks of anesthesia errors outside of the hospital setting.
Malpractice claims can include:
- Nerve damage
- Serious scarring
- Malfunctioning implants
Not all unsatisfactory results will warrant litigation. It is difficult for clients to find representation for unfortunate but more minor cases, like small scars or disappointment with the results. Even if it was a doctor error that led to such results, most law firms will not be able to enter costly legal battles over minor cases.
A study of 25 years of claims relating to plastic surgery malpractice found “improper performance of a procedure” to be the most common claim, constituting almost half of all cases.